The Ogmios Genre Guide
Part III - Styles of Cyberpunk
Image taken from the movie The Matrix
cyberpunk \si'ber-puhnk\ n.
a : science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology.
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)
However bad today's world is - multiply it ten fold. The poor have gotten poorer, and the rich have gotten much much richer. So rich, in fact, that they control nations, buying and selling human life for their own personal amusement. Governments? Don't make me laugh. This world knows only one ruler - the almighty Yen. Computers have advanced at an unbelievable rate. The entire world is connected by an all-encompassing computer network that people communicate with using a Virtual Reality interface. Cybernetics have advanced too, and people often use them not only to replace damaged body parts, but also to augment existing ones, adding strength, speed, retractable weapons and other oddities.
Life is Cheap
Human life has practically lost its value. The middle class is all but gone, and the poor live on the streets in subhuman conditions. Since the governments have disappeared and given way to the megacorporations, no one cares about these unfortunate individuals.
But Death Has a Price
The art of war has become a wanted commodity and many (including most of the PCs) survive by hiring themselves out as mercenaries, bodyguards, assassins, and special-ops operatives, usually for operations their employer would rather sweep under the rug afterwards.
The Skyscrapers, with the Black Sky on the Background
Overpopulation is an everyday fact, and cities are full of monstrous skyscrapers blocking out the sky. Pollution has only increased since the turn of the millennium, and colored the sky black with industrial smoke.
The science of cybernetics has advanced by quantum leaps, and people (at least those who can afford it), freely augment their bodies with stronger limbs, armor plating, retractable weapons, enhanced senses and anything the local technician can think about.
This is perhaps the most essential characteristic of cyberpunk - the punk. In the sewers and allies at the corners of the cities, a new culture has arisen. A culture that defies the overpowering of the rich. A culture that encourages free thought and self expression.
Hostile. With an optimistic life expectancy of 40, truly only the strong survive.
Books like Mick Farren DNA Cowboys
series and Richard Cadrey's Metrophage
. Movies like Blade Runner
, Johnny Mnemonic
, Judge Dread
, Total Recall
and the Robocop
PHILOSOPHICAL CYBERPUNK (REAL CYBERPUNK)
Terms like "man", "woman", "human", "society", "computer" and "intelligence" can no longer be easily or accurately defined. Humanity and technology have evolved to the state that they can not be separated anymore. This genre deals with the idea and consequences of this situation and concerns itself with the attempt to understand technology, society, intelligence, life and even reality itself.
Various States of Reality
On of the typical conventions of this genre are situations that not "real", in the entire sense of the word, and the hero's attempt at understanding them and their "reality". These situations are usually some sort of virtual reality simulation encountered in cyberspace, or a drug induced hallucination.
Questions About Life and Creation
Mankind is no longer the only sentient lifeform on planet Earth. No, little green men did not come from Mars to visit. The other lifeform was created by man himself. These are the androids and other Artificial Intelligences (AIs). Their existence and intelligence can no longer be denied. The only remaining questions are whether or not they are actually alive, and how can (or perhaps should) these two races co-exist.
The Meaning of Life
The heroes of this genre are products of the decayed materialistic society. Many times the story revolves around their quest after a higher meaning in their life. More often than not they do in fact reach their (physical) objective, but only rarely do they gain any added understanding or moral ground from that achievement.
Hostile, but not overpowering. These stories deal primarily with ideas, not with conflicts. The harsh surrounding is there only to provide a ground from which these ideas can grow.
Almost anything by William Gibson. Most of the stories in the anthologies Mirrorshades
edited by Bruce Sterling and Digital Dreams
edited by David V. Barrett. Movies like Ghost in the Shell
, The Lawnmoverman
and The Matrix
(but just barley).
In this genre, machine has advanced, but not as much as it did in other subgeneres. Why try to imitate the greatest inventor of them all - Mother Nature? Technology in this genre takes the form of biotechnology, not cybernetics - cloning, living cell computers, regrowing limbs, cryogenic freezing, grafting of bizarre organisms, gene manipulation etc.
Biotechnology has made advanced in quantum leaps, and encompasses every aspect of everyday life. Death is becoming less and less of a problem - nanobots and gene therapy can concur almost any disease, limbs can be regrown, or the entire body cloned. Of course, if everything else fails, you could always be cryogenically frozen and awoken when a cure to your condition is found. Naturally, all of this only applies if you have the money to pay for it.
The Value of Human Life (or lack thereof)
In a world that creates and destroys life almost at will, life itself is much less valuable than in our times. The rich can usually find someone desperate enough to sell his organs or even his entire body for a sufficient amount of money.
Some people may choose to enhance their body by grafting various organs genetically engineered to grant the owner enhanced strength, speed and other abilities (or perhaps just a phosphorescent skin that will make you look really cool at parties).
Hostile, but somehow not as much as in cyberpunk.
Certain occurrences in Larry Niven's books like Gil Hamilton's Long Arm
. Certain stories from the anthology Mirrorshades
edited by Bruce Sterling. TV series like Aeon Flux
. Movies like The Sixth Day
(even if only just barley).
The world is a sad and dismal place. Man has imprisoned himself in cities that reach towards the sky, its towers blocking out the sun. He roams this city like a rat in a cage of his own creating. Few things still hold value, compassion not being one of them. But it is not only man and his technology to blame. Dark forces are on the move behind the scenes. Ancient vampires pull the strings of man's fate, playing with it as if it were a puppet. Wizards and warlocks engage in mysterious rites of power, forever plotting and scheming. And yet, for the most part, man is unaware of this. Perhaps, it is for the best.
The Supernatural Exists
Mainly, the darker side of it. Governments and businessmen are not really the centers of power in this world, but ancient and arcane organizations and mystical beings.
Ignorance is a Blessing
Mankind, for the most part, is not aware of what is really going on around him, but is trapped in an intertwining web of misinformation and masquerade. The powers at work behind the scenes draw much of their power from being invisible, and they want to keep things this way. Usually, the main characters (both heroes and villains) in this genre will be either some sort of mystical beings, or normal people that have discovered the truth about this world.
The powers in control of this world are ancient, as stated. Therefore, the main visual characteristics of this world would have a retro motif to them, usually to the eighteen hundreds, the era when Goth was born.
Silently hostile. If it was too blatantly hostile, this would become horror, not gothpunk.
Movies like The Crow
. Role Playing Games like White Wolf's World of Darkness
games or Dynasty Presentations, Inc.'s Dark Conspiricy
. TV series like The X-Files
, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer
CYBERLESS PUNK (CLEAN PUNK)
Although the world has deteriorated into it's cut-throat, no-mercy cesspool we recognize so well as being cyberpunk, humanity has managed to do this to herself without advanced cybernetics of biotechnology. Technology level may be a bit higher than what is present today, but not so advanced that the characters no longer seem human.
Technology did not make the quantum leap everyone was expecting. No cybernetically enhanced freaks or cryogenic freezing here.
The same social standards we all know from cyberpunk, only this time it seems a bit more on-the-spot, because of the greater resemblance to our own world.
Slightly hostile, not as straight forwardly as in regular cyberpunk, but in a much more subtle and disturbing way.
Tracy Hickman's Immortals
. To some extent, Gataka
PUNKLESS CYBER (CLEAN CYBER, POST PUNK)
Technology has advanced, allowing us to replace damaged body parts, or just for enhanced abilities. Somehow, the world did not fall apart in the process. Either the world as we would like to know it has survived and not collapsed, or it has pulled itself out of this miserable situation. Be the cause as it may, society exists more or less as we know it, and technology is often the focus on this genre.
This genre is characterized by greater technological advancements than ordinary cyberpunk. Cybernetics no longer mean adding retractable claws are changing aged eyes, but replacing entire bodies, making cyborgs not humans with mechanical additions, but a blending of man and machine.
Technology is Feared
Whatever potential uses cybernetics hold, it is feared and hated by the wide populace - either because of ignorance, because of its shady past (from the world actually looked like a cyberpunk one) or because of the issues it raises about the humanity of those who use it.
Variable attitude, although usually with only the slightest hint of hostility (much less than in other subgenres).
Books like Margaret Wies and Don Perrin's Black Earth
series. TV series like Steve Austin - the Six Million Dollar Man
and The Bionic Woman
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Image by Joseph Barnhard